So You Didn’t Get Into Your First Choice College – Now What?

After mountains of applications and months of waiting, you finally opened the letter that lets you know whether or not you’ve been accepted into your dream college – only to find a rejection. You spent a long time of imaging this school as part of your future, so it’s natural to feel crushed and ultimately confused about what’s coming next. 

If you find yourself in this position, you should know that as impossible as it seems, things are going to work out and you are going to move forward! Here are a few steps to take to adjust your focus and reset while you figure out what's next. 

Let yourself recover.

Before trying to re-plan your college options, just let yourself sit with the emotions. Getting rejected from something you care about is never easy, so it’s okay if you’re upset. Especially if this was a college your family had attended, you were planning to go to this school with your friends, or this location had your dream program – there’s a lot to let yourself grieve. And you’ll need to process your emotions before you can move on.

Certified Education Planner at Score at the Top Learning Centers and Schools Judi Robinovitz emphasizes how important it is to face down sadness before moving on to acceptance during the college application process. “I always tell the students I work with that admissions unfair,” Judi says. Here, Robinovitz acknowledges the countless qualified high school students who are not admitted to their top choice colleges for any number of reasons, such as the overwhelming amount of competition. She continues, “Students need to give themselves time to grieve before they can move on. It’s important to recognize that this rejection is not personal.” 

The key to recovering is allowing yourself to grieve, but also envisioning all of the wonderful aspects of your future that are still open to you. Try to find positive ways to process all that you are feeling, such as talking to family and friends or distracting yourself with your favorite activities. Remember that there is still work to be done, and a lot of amazing opportunities headed your way!

Meet with your advisor to discuss next steps.

The next step is to meet with a college counselor, guidance counselor, teacher, or any other expert who can talk through your options. Together you’ll want to find schools with similar academic programs and extracurriculars to your dream school. You can also discuss important factors like location and cost. Once you’ve specified the things you’re looking for out of a college, your counselor can help you find several options that would be a great fit for you!

Related: 6 Ways to Build a Better Relationship With Your Guidance Counselor

Get hyped about new opportunities. 

Once you’ve heard back from all the colleges you applied to, it’s time to pick a new first choice! Try to visit the schools you’re most interested in, arranging an overnight stay if possible to get the most accurate representation of university life there. You can meet current students, drop in on a class, test out the dorms, and overall get a better sense of the campus vibe. 

If visiting schools for overnights (or even for the day) isn’t a viable option for you, there are still lots of ways to get a better sense of the campus culture. First, try contacting a current student at the colleges you are most interested in. You can find current students through your own network, or by asking your advisor to connect you. Some questions you’ll want to prepare include: 

  • What’s your favorite part about your school?
  • What’s the social scene like?
  • How have you been able to pursue your hobbies through on campus clubs? 
  • If you could change one thing about your school, what would it be?

You can also try visiting the college’s Instagram page to watch stories of daily life or events on campus. There are also Facebook groups for prospective students to join, and that’s a great place to ask questions and get real talk advice for everything you’ve been curious about.

If you’re really set on your dream school, wait it out.

If you really feel that your dream school was the perfect fit for you, you are not out of options. You should think about taking a gap year and reapplying. This gives you time to think through how you can strengthen your application, meet with counselors, retake the SATS, or take whatever measures you need in order to make your application the strongest it can be.

Many students also start out at one school and transfer into another that they feel is a better fit for them. Recent Virginia Commonwealth University graduate Alexia Amblard speaks to how transferring helped her college experience. “I originally started college at Howard University in DC,” she recalls, “but after two years I transferred to VCU. I transferred because I felt VCU could offer me more academically as well as provide me a better financial aid package and because of this I was really happy during my two and a half years there. Transferring also taught me how to be adaptable and I learned that I can thrive in many different academic and social settings.”  

Amblard highlights the excellent point that no matter what path you take to get to college, it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as the “perfect” college. The application and acceptance processes are about finding a school that’s the right fit for you, and that might look different than what you originally expected. 

“You will be happy wherever you go, because teenagers are incredibly adaptable,” Robitivitz notes. “I have so many kids who tell me that even though they were set on their first-choice school, they are so incredibly happy where they are and are so glad that they ended up going there.”

Facing rejection is never easy, especially after years of hard work and high expectations. But, you’ll adapt and thrive wherever you end up, because at the end of the day college is what you make of it!